PNG fires sweep across the nation
Large areas of Papua New Guinea are being ravaged by fire in the midst of a severe drought, but assistance to those in rural areas won't be coming any time soon.
Large areas of Papua New Guinea are being ravaged by fire in the midst of a severe drought but assistance to those in rural areas won't be coming any time soon.
Local research has indicated over 100 blazes have occurred across the country just this week.
Koro Vaka'uta reports.
PNG, specifically the Highlands region, has been experiencing severe frosts and the worst drought since an El Nino weather system caused a prolonged dry period from 1997 into 1998. Our correspondent in PNG Todagia Kelola says the situation has led to large parts of the country being engulfed by fire from the Highlands to West New Britain across to Milne Bay province.
TODAGIA KELOLA: In the Western Highlands Province, the fire that raged for three days, three days and two separate districts in that three days. We have been told that fires burnt houses and food gardens and that a huge forest area estimated to be more than 100 hectares was also destroyed during these fires.
A disaster assessor contracted by the United Church, Matthew Kanua says the fires have been spreading rapidly over the past month.
MATTHEW KANUA: It's moving on much faster and much quicker now then in 1997. For instance, in August this year we had these fires in East New Britain which did not happen in August 1997.
The University of PNG's Remote Sensing Centre produced data showing the extent of the fires and there are predictions the situation could get worse without any rain. The centre's Phil Shearman says satellite imagery shows how much of a fire risk has been created.
PHIL SHEARMAN: It's possible to set fire to things that weren't able to set fire to before so we've been seeing in the last three months a five-fold increase in the number of fires that are occurring. Judging by what happened in the '97-'98 El Nino period you would be expecting to see an increased expansion of that.
Dr Shearman says up to 15% of the mountainous forest coverage was lost during the '97-98 El Nino period. Despite the fires the PNG Fire Chief Isaac Silas says the service will not be able to assist many of the people around the country. Mr Silas says he doesn't have the resources to help.
ISAAC SILAS: We have about 22 provinces here. We provide coverage for about 10 of those provinces only. The coverage is only for those built-up areas so our presence is not even right throughout the country. We need to instil volunteerism as part of the way going forward.
The fire chief did have this advice for people in vulnerable areas.
ISAAC SILAS: Mow the lawn and cut out the grass around their properties, having said that however a lot of our people, the houses in the rural areas are thatched-roofed and that does not help at all when you have sparks flying from other fires that are already in the environment.
Mr Silas says he feels for the people of rural PNG but his hands are tied by a lack of resources. He says while it may be too late to help with the current situation, he hopes the situation will spur greater action at a governmental level.
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